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What Are the Risks of Dementia?

Our body systems work together in ways that most people do not understand. Two of those systems are the auditory system and the central nervous system, specifically the brain. Our ears are connected to the brain and that allows us to hear and process different noises. Sound waves travel through the ear, vibrate the eardrum, which then sends those vibrations to the auditory nerve. The nerve then moves signals to the brain where they are then translated into recognizable and meaningful sounds. It is the brain that “hears”.

What is Dementia and Alzheimer’s?

When talking about diseases that involve cognitive function declining, Dementia and Alzheimer’s tend to be grouped together. Dementia is a term used to describe a decline in mental function. Nearly 13% of the American population 71 years or older, approximately 3 million people, have been diagnosed with some form of Dementia.

While Dementia is a broad term, Alzheimer’s is a specific disease that falls under that branch. Alzheimer’s accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases and displays similar symptoms. These include a decline in memory, critical thinking, and reasoning skills. Each of the symptom’s progress through different stages – early AD→ mild cognitive decline→ dementia.

How is Dementia and Alzheimer’s related to hearing loss?

Noise exposure, injury, and the aging process can all play a role in the development of hearing loss. The hearing loss process is slow which makes it easier for our brains to adapt to the loss. When this happens, the area of the brain that was being stimulated by the sound isn’t anymore. Because of the lack of brain stimulation, brain activity starts to decrease which can contribute to Dementia and Alzheimer’s.

There was a study done at Johns Hopkins on the correlation of the severity of hearing loss and the risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s. The study showed that those with mild untreated hearing loss have 2x the risk of developing Dementia and those with moderate untreated hearing loss have 3x the risk. People who have severe hearing loss that has gone untreated are 5x more likely to develop Dementia. The higher the hearing loss severity, the higher the risk of developing Dementia.

Can the effects of Alzheimer’s and Dementia be lessened once the hearing loss gets treated?  

Using hearing aids will not stop the Dementia from developing, but it can help prolong the early signs. Hearing aids allow sounds to enter the ear and brain that had not previously been able to therefore increasing brain stimulation. This reduces the early signs of Dementia.

The best way to reduce the risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s is preventative care. This includes wearing hearing protection while in loud environments, getting a hearing assessment, and paying attention to how loud the volume is turned up on electronic devices. Another preventive care measure people can take is doing activities that stimulate the brain. These can range from puzzles, math problems, painting, crafts, etc.

What should I do if I think I have hearing loss?

If you think you might be experiencing hearing loss, scheduling a hearing assessment is an important next step. During your appointment, the Hearing Care Specialist will test your hearing and guide you through further measures to protect your hearing health.

Not ready to come into an office yet? Our online hearing assessment allows you to check your hearing from the comfort of your own home.